Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner sat in the Daytrotter lounge, propped up against the broken couch that's been through more than its share of wars and - we're guessing - fornication. Through the walls, the booming and blaring sonics of her band's tourmates Pontiak were passing freely, like X-rays and it was as if she was biting into the best candied apple she'd every had in her life, or the first bite from a fresh stack of pancakes dripping with maple syrup. It was as if she was letting a stiff drag of a cigarette envelope and take her away into some kind of crunchy paradise. She exclaimed that it was one of her favorite bands in a way that made you believe her, the way that tells you she didn't mean that it was one of her favorite bands of the last few weeks. She hadn't just gotten into a band and it was her very own du jour, knocking her aback with that new feeling of discovery. It was a lasting expression and it leads to thinking that she could get a lot out of spending a healthy chunk of time just parked out in front of the bear lair at a zoo without many iron bars or protective enclosures. She would get a lot out of the kind of adrenaline that would come with observing such creatures as they stirred and fidgeted about, sleeping mostly, but always with a very electrical sense that those lumbering and lazy, furry hogs of beasts could spring from a nap, rear up onto their fat feet and destroy your face off, or they could do it to someone else and create the kind of entertainment/chaotic flurry that no one would soon forget.
Pontiak, the band from Virginia made up of the brothers Lain, Van and Jennings, are embodiments of these bears in an unsafe zoo environment. They are the bears when they rise suddenly and violently, but randomly. It's in these chippy moments when the band is making fire, all the while discouraging the fire for the scalding that it just laid down on it. Pontiak are these bears when they're complacently spilling their body parts all over a flat surface, hugging a sheet of concrete for a lengthy piece of slumber, dreaming who knows what that will keep them out cold for so long. They may even think to themselves, "Please don't ever let us bears wake up from these dreams," as the sandman keeps delivering them to honey pots and wriggling rainbow trout in freshwater streams.
These three guys have a vast understanding of taking all of the various clashing stresses and desires that shoot through every living person and they take them on a joyride. Even joyrides have times where speed limits and stoplights must be obeyed or everyone is in jeopardy of being in peril, needing the jaws of life to remove them from a heap of a hot and gasoline-smelling ensnarling. The music finds its inner spirit with all of its many temperaments, thriving on some swampy blues sounds that are as thick as Iowa pork chops and also getting lost in the tamer waters that could be claimed by hippie camps and nature freaks. There's more humanity - or aspects of it - in these songs than you could expect from music that can jiggle the light fixtures out of the ceiling and cause an entire city block to trip a circuit just a second into a performance. There are cosmic tumblers clicking into place throughout the lyrical content, of sky meeting the ocean meeting our busy and blind selves and a sense that there needs to be more to that complicated relationship, as the strings bind very formally and the strings are stronger than diamond. So here we stand in front of these wild animals, with nothing standing between us and a mauling, through the happy times and through the hungry times. It can be rather exhilarating.
*Essay originally published February, 2009